The impact of accented English on speech comprehension

Benigno Valles, University of Texas at El Paso


In the context of shifting demographics in the United States and with an increasing multicultural workforce, the verbal exchange of information is vital especially between health care providers and patients. Although English is the official language in the United States, many individuals from different national origins speak English with some degree of accent. Before we can address health care provider/patient communication, it is necessary to investigate the potential impact of accented English on speech comprehension and its implications on basic communicative interactions. The verbal exchange of information between health care providers and patients is important in diagnostics, treatment, patient compliance, and overall patient care across disciplines (Beck, Daughtridge, & Sloane, 2002; Slort, Schweitzer, Blankenstein, Abarshi, Riphagen, Echteld, et al., 2011). Previous studies investigating the impact of speech accents on communication have relied mainly on the subjective judgments of listeners in comparison to predominately White Standard American English speakers. This study directly assessed how various degrees of accented English affected a listeners’ ability to respond to a standardized auditory comprehension task (Revised Token Test, McNeil & Prescott, 1978; Lara, 2012) by having English speaking participants respond to spoken instructions from a native English speaker with standard American accent, and non-native English speakers with different degrees of accented English (near-native, moderate and heavy). Fifty-four English speaking participants (15 males and 39 females) between the ages of 18 and 37 were tested. It was hypothesized that among English listeners: 1) response accuracy is poorer on trials delivering instructions in non-native accented English as compared with native accented English; 2) response accuracy will decrease as the degree of accented non-native English increases; and 3) latency of response increases with an increase in the degree of accented English. A quasi-experimental design was used to test the hypotheses using a repeated measures ANOVA, testing for the within-subjects main effect of accentedness on response accuracy and for the within-subjects main effect of accentedness on response latency. Study results show that accuracy of response in listeners was significantly affected by the heavy accent degree. Pattern of latency of responses demonstrated that the near-native accented speech required significantly less time to process than even the native English accent perhaps because this near-native form of English is representative of the surrounding community and participants in this study were more familiar with this form of accented English.

Subject Area

Linguistics|Speech therapy

Recommended Citation

Valles, Benigno, "The impact of accented English on speech comprehension" (2015). ETD Collection for University of Texas, El Paso. AAI3708574.